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By Katherine Palmer Gordon, June 2014

With a likely capital cost of between $800 million and $1 billion, it had better. Focus explores the issue with two scientists.

Last December, retired University of Victoria ocean physics professor Chris Garrett wrote to Focus, along with some of his former marine science colleagues, stating: “The allegedly scientific arguments put forward in support [of land-based secondary sewage treatment] are very superficial… [there is no] detailed, quantitative, rational analysis of what the problems are with the present system or how the proposed schemes will fix them.”

By Judith Lavoie, June 2014

The Salish Sea’s inhabitants are facing unprecedented threats.

From a float plane high above the Salish Sea, it’s an idyllic picture: Small islands dotting the ocean, sail boats, freighters, surf breaking on rocks, deserted beaches framed by massive Douglas firs, and two beautiful big cities—Seattle and Vancouver—and dozens of smaller towns, including our own, scattered around its shores.

At sea level, however, a troubling picture is emerging and scientists, documenting unmistakable signs of a struggling ecosystem, are calling for a concerted effort to save the Salish Sea.

By Briony Penn, June 2014

Is this threatened whale just too big a threat to Alberta’s oil-fuelled prosperity?

Just when humpback whales are starting to reestablish up and down the coast, including in the Salish Sea, the federal government is removing their legal protection. With the cynical Earth Day announcement of the delisting of the whale, many people are questioning how Prime Minister Stephen Harper managed to remove the obstacle to shipping bitumen from BC ports posed by a threatened whale in a threatened ocean. The downgrading of the official level of risk faced by BC’s humpback whale population cries out for an examination of how political interference is able to exert itself in the Byzantine process of designating species at risk, a process that is supposed to be non-political.

By Gene Miller, June 2014

Deep change, driven by non-negotiable ecological imperatives, is coming. But which form will it take?

Is there anything worse on this entire planet than discovering you’re fresh out of three-colour couscous (or the Italian tricoloré, if you’ve outgrown screw-top through a straw) when you’re cooking tender lamb tagine and pan-seared rustic vegetables? How the hell does that happen? Just the other day, there was a boxful of the stuff, right next to the Medjool dates. What, did the kids feed it to the ducks? Well, now dinner’s ruined.

No, no it isn’t! I bring you great tidings! Bulk Barn! Open ’til 9.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2014

The garden is a pathway to a safer, better world.

Out in the garden I work the soil, divide perennials, pull weeds, spread compost, and let nature wash away the aches and scrapes that tag along with life and sometimes threaten to eclipse it. I’m fortunate to have a garden, a place where I can reconvene with calmness and well-being on days that threaten to bowl me over. I go unplugged, leaving behind the phone and all electronic devices. I am a child again, on my hands and knees peering into the heart of a frilly tulip, inhaling its extraordinary, citrus-tinged elixir. 

I know all winter that the spring bulbs are coming and yet their arrival is always a surprise, their colours against the backdrop of a garden just stirring out of hibernation always more intense than I remember. 

By Amy Reiswig, June 2014

Nancy Turner’s monumental new work explores humanity’s multi-faceted relationship to plants.

When she was nine years old, Nancy J. Turner was involved with the junior wing of the Victoria Natural History Society and spent Saturdays hiking, observing, and talking about discoveries. Now in her 60s, she’s still doing much the same thing, but as one of Canada’s leading ethnobotanists, a Distinguished Professor in Environmental Studies at UVic, holder of the Hakai Chair in Ethnoecology, member of the Order of BC and the Order of Canada, and an award-winning author. And her passion for the natural world remains undiminished. 

By Monica Prendergast, June 2014

A sampling of new Canadian plays.

For almost 30 years, the Alberta Theatre Projects’ PlayRites Festival in Calgary has premiered new Canadian plays— well over 100 works, a number of which have gone on to be produced across the country. Sadly, this year marks the final mounting of the festival so I was especially committed to attending at least the final weekend of the month-long event. The “Blitz Weekend” is when artistic directors and theatre administrators join the audience, not only for the main performances but also for stagings-in-progress and play-readings.

By Aaren Madden, June 2014

Glassblower revels in colour, pattern and process.

At its most basic, glassblowing is an art form reliant upon heat, pressure and movement. Molten glass at an ideal temperature of 2100F (about 1150C) is gathered onto the end of a hollow steel tube (the blowpipe). It is then removed from the furnace, shaped, and blown. More glass is gathered depending on the desired piece size, then transferred to another rod for further manipulation at a bench. Constantly rotating the pipe on a support is imperative to keep the sides even. Wooden paddles, wet newspaper, and the table surface shape the vessel. Achieving the desired form requires repeated trips between the bench and the glory hole, another furnace, for reheating to allow manipulation. Once finished, the piece is placed in a third furnace to cool slowly. 

By Chris Chreighton-Kelly, June 2014

Is the idea of fine art still relevant today?

Trekking around the CRD, as many of us do, the term “fine art” pops up frequently. From Sooke to Sidney there are various fine art shows which are regional exhibitions of artworks—mostly paintings, drawings, prints and small sculptures. Victoria itself has quite a few private galleries promoting fine art. Some of these specialize in what they call “contemporary fine art,” others highlight “fine craft art.”

There is no tight consensus about the meaning of “fine art” but it is generally understood as an art historical term first used in the mid 1700s and developed in Europe over the next century and into the early 1900s. Its sister term in French, beaux-arts, translates as “the beautiful arts.” According to the dictionary, it signifies “visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness.” 

Focus Readers, May 2014

Concern about political ad 

I write to you today to express my deep concern about a paid advertisement from CAIA Victoria which claims that Israel is guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” This is an outright lie which is propagated by, among others, the organization sponsoring the ads—which is devoted to dismantling Israel as a Jewish homeland. You can find a detailed and thoughtful discussion of “ethnic cleansing” at where it is defined as: the attempt to get rid of (through deportation, displacement or even mass killing) members of an unwanted ethnic group in order to establish an ethnically homogenous geographic area.

By David Broadland, May 2014

The risk of cost overruns on the new bridge was hidden. Is the same thing happening with sewage treatment plans?

April was a dangerous month for two local megaprojects and their political backers. City of Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin’s claim of a “fixed price” contract with the builder of the new Johnson Street Bridge turned out to be little more than a mayoral misunderstanding. That project’s acknowledged price is now almost certain to top $100 million and construction will likely run well into 2016.

In the same week, CRD politicians’ attempt to ram a regional sewage treatment plant down the throat of the smallest municipality involved in the scheme proved to be an expensive political miscalculation. Esquimalt Council voted unanimously to push the project out of the municipality, and provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak made it clear she wouldn’t interfere on behalf of the CRD.

By Leslie Campbell, May 2014

April provided some inspiring examples of effective citizen engagement.

I’ve been privileged over the years to witness how ordinary citizens, working in varied and splendoured ways to set things on a better course, become more empowered and hopeful. Sometimes they even beat the odds, becoming effective change-makers in the process.

Faced with billion-dollar infrastructure projects everywhere we turn, not to mention hearing dire warnings about climate change, it’s a time when we could use some good news. April has proved helpful in that regard—serving up some positive stories of how citizen oversight and engagement led to a more democratic outcome.

This being a municipal election year, paying attention to the lessons such stories offer could result in a sea change in our region, washing away those politicians clinging to old ideas like barnacles on a rock, instead of representing the will of the people.

By Judith Lavoie, May 2014

The farmers don’t want changes to the ALR—so who does?

Ingrained dirt outlines Nathalie Chamber’s fingernails and her hands are marked with calluses—inevitable by-products of the planting, pruning and soil preparation underway at Madrona Farm in Saanich.

Spring should be an exhilarating season on the 27-acre organic farm. Instead, Chambers is as mad as hell. “I am enraged about Bill 24. Ninety-five percent of British Columbians don’t want anything to change with the Agricultural Land Reserve. They want the land protected for future generations,” said Chambers, who, like many farmland activists, is angry about the provincial government’s introduction of a bill changing the 40-year-old ALR.

By Rob Wipond, May 2014

Internal RCMP investigation also underway

By Briony Penn, May 2014

Are the BC Liberals trying to take another step towards privatization of public forests?

On April 1, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson announced that “A comprehensive public engagement process on converting some volume-based forest licences to new or expanded area-based tree farm licences will take place over the next two months.”

By Gene Miller, May 2014

Our newest tourist attraction may be one of the Seven Blunders of the World. More of the same are in the works.

Long years ago, I experienced a recurring kid’s fantasy of being in an elevator whose cable snapped, sending the cab on a clattering rendezvous with destiny 20 storeys below. Just as the plummeting cab was about to hit bottom, I flexed and jumped in the air at the exact same speed as the dropping cage; and when, a split-second later, the cab finally stopped in a roar of torn metal, I landed cloudlike on the ruined deck, my feet crossed gracefully at the ankles (think Fred Astaire or Bruce Lee), and walked out completely unharmed.

By Amy Reiswig, May 2014

The need for a nourishing habitat is a common theme in Andrea Routley’s new collection of short stories.

They say home is where the heart is. But if your heart is in turmoil, how do you feel at home, whether in your house, at work or just standing still, anywhere, in your own self? The issue of belonging, of having a safe and nurturing place to be—and to become—is one most of us have dealt with. Almost everyone has been that awkward teenager navigating a confusing social circle. Others have felt judged or, worse, condemned over sexual orientation. And anyone with a few relationships behind them knows how what starts as a partnership can quickly strand you somewhere unfamiliar—like finding myself freshly divorced in a new town living on my own for the first time at age 35.

By Aaren Madden, May 2014

A fascination with cities and architecture lies behind Linda Darby’s recent works.

For a few years in the 1890s, Claude Monet painted dozens of images of Rouen Cathedral’s Gothic façade from the same vantage point at various hours, seasons, and weather conditions, as if in an attempt to crack the code of light. Ultimately, he became engaged in a dialogue that involved artist, process, architecture, light, and ensuing multiple experiences of an iconic city space, through what author Robert Pelfrey has described as “recording visual sensations [in and of] themselves.” 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, May 2014

On the eve of the Royal McPherson’s Centennial Festival, the meaning of performance is pondered.

An open fire has majestic, mysterious powers. It calls us immediately into the present with its heat; its crackling and spitting intensity; its ever-changing, hypnotic visuals. 

At the same time, it carries us far away from the present to a moment, common with all our many ancestors, where time and place seem to disappear. A fire creates a second kind of hypnosis that transports us both deep inside ourselves and, at the same time, way back somewhere to a human source. We are, after all, the only species who messes with flames.